CNN  — 

Maine resident Jennifer Jones says US Postal Service mail delays killed over half the baby chickens she ordered this summer for backyard farming.

In 15 years, Jones says she’s ordered thousands of chicks with no issues. USPS normally delivers them within 24 hours. This time, though, it took days.

“They came within two to three days, which is much longer than normal,” Jones told CNN of her July order. “Upon arrival, 13 were dead. We lost four more over the week.”

With more Americans than ever expected to vote by mail in November’s presidential election due to health concerns around Covid-19, delays like the one Jones experienced are deepening concerns about the Postal Service’s capacity to handle a flood of ballot mail.

In documents recently handed over to Congress, USPS showed mail on-time performance dropped significantly after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented operational changes on July 10.

Amid a rising public outcry, DeJoy last month said he was reversing some changes and pledged to Congress that the Postal Service is ready for the fall.

“While we have had temporary service decline, which should not have happened, we are fixing this,” DeJoy said in his testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee on August 24. “In fact, last week service improved across all major mail and package categories and I am laser focused on improving service for the American public.”

Yet documents and photos obtained by CNN show that mail delays are continuing despite DeJoy’s assurances to Congress last month that things are improving – and union officials and postal workers across the US are also telling CNN the same thing.

USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer told CNN, “Service performance improved across all major mail categories in the week’s prior to Postmaster General DeJoy’s testimony on Aug. 24, and this trend has continued through August, returning to early July levels.”

He said the USPS would not publicly release service performance metrics for packages because the USPS considers it, “commercially sensitive information and protected from public disclosure.”

However, Partenheimer indicated they would share relevant data with Congress, “under protective conditions.”

Mail and package delays continue

Photos and documents obtained by CNN show that despite DeJoy’s latest comment to Congress, persistent postal delays are prevalent across the US.

Some sorting facilities in Tennessee are so overwhelmed with mail and packages, they’ve been utilizing private contractors to move dozens of tractor trailers across the state for sorting, according to three sources. Laden with delayed mail, they say the trucks are transporting packages to Knoxville, Tennessee, for their first pass sorting, just to be transported back to their originating facilities for their second pass sorting.

Two of the sources said the Knoxville facility became so inundated with packages from other facilities, they were unable to adequately process their own packages.

CNN obtained a photo from a source that shows delayed mail piling up at a USPS facility. It’s because management there told employees they were to not sort any mail, including priority and first class mail, and according to the source only sort packages.

Another photo from August 16, shows mail in Rochester, New York, was delayed for at least 10 days.

Internal documents obtained by CNN show that in one day, nearly 45% of the over 50,000 packages on the floor of a USPS national distribution center were delayed by three days. A source at that facility, which CNN has agreed to not name, cautions that is only the amount of packages inside the facility.

At that same facility, over 56 percent of standard mail at the facility has been delayed two to five days.

Those statistics do not include the dozens of tractor trailers the source says are sitting at the facility that have yet to be unloaded.

The real effects of mail delays

Jones ordered 25 baby chickens in July, when the delays were at their worst. When they arrived late, 13 chicks were dead. By the end of the week, four more died. She’s pointing the blame at DeJoy and USPS management.

“I believe the issue was they were left somewhere in the heat,” she told CNN. “This clearly was a result of the new cutbacks and slowdown.”

It’s humane to ship the chicks, according to Jones, because they do not need any food or water for the first 72 hours after they hatch – they absorb their yolk sac. Jones says she’s ordered thousands of baby chickens over the last 15 years but won’t order any more until things stabilize at the USPS.

She uses the chicks for her backyard farming business, reselling them to individuals to individuals so they can have fresh eggs from their backyard.

Jones says slow-downs are why she’s not blaming postal workers for her baby chicks that died. She just hopes mail service can be revived by Election Day.

“I feel terrible for the post office workers,” she said.

Jones isn’t the only American feeling the real-world effects that mail delays have had. Humble, Texas, resident Don White said his heart medication sat in a sorting facility in Illinois for more than a week.

During DeJoy’s congressional testimony, representatives said they’ve also heard from constituents that have had their insulin and chemotherapy drug shipments delayed.

A 3,090% increase in delayed mail at one facility in July

Although Covid-19 has significantly increased package volume because more people are buying things online, postal workers say August is generally one of the slowest months of the year.

Delayed mail records kept by American Postal Workers Union Southwest Florida Area local president Sam Wood is giving an idea of how bad mail and package delays got in July.

At the Fort Meyers, Florida processing and distribution center there was over 5.75 million delayed packages and mail items in that facility in July. According to Wood, that meant there was a 3,090% increase in delayed items compared to April at the facility.

Despite the continued delays, the USPS and DeJoy continue to attempt to soothe Americans concerns about their postal service.

“I am confident that the Postal Service’s performance will continue to improve overall, and that it will ultimately exceed our prior service performance levels,” he told Congress in an August 31 letter. “This is an organization-wide commitment.”